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Bonobos founder Andy Dunn to leave Walmart in 2020

17:26 | 13 December

Andy Dunn, the founder of menswear site Bonobos which sold to Walmart in 2017 for $310 million, is now parting ways with the retail giant. The executive, who joined Walmart as SVP of digital consumer brands at the time of the acquisition, officially announced his departure in a LinkedIn post titled “A Love Letter to Walmart.”

In it, Dunn praises the time he spent with the company and the knowledge he gained while working there. Specifically, he references several of Walmart’s bigger initiatives, including its transformation into an omnichannel retail serving customers online and offline, without distinction.

This is an area of Walmart’s business that’s been under pressure as the battle with Amazon heats up. A recent report by Bloomberg, for example, highlighted the internal corporate culture clash underway as Walmart’s e-commerce investments impacted stores and thinned margins.

Dunn also referenced Walmart’s growing grocery business, now helping to fuel its online sales, and the development of new Walmart brands like Allswell.

“I learned a lot more about retail transformation in the digital age at the world’s biggest company. I watched our strategy evolve as we uncorked our unique advantages on a new omni playing field – and began to identify where we aren’t just catching up, but where we are winning. The momentum with online grocery pickup opened my eyes: our thousands of supercenters are an asset nobody else has, so let’s use them,” wrote Dunn. “In our digital brands group, that led to development of a strategy built on omni, as we married our talent with the power of Walmart distribution to build brands like Allswell. With my departure, that incubator will now be plugged directly into the Walmart mothership,” he said.

Bonobos is one of several online brands that Walmart has now acquired to fill out its virtual shelves, along with Moosejaw ($51M), ShoeBuy, Jet.com ($3B), Hayneedle, in addition to Bonobos ($310M) and ModCloth ($75M). Dunn’s letter noted the more recent deal to buy plus-sized clothing brand ELOQUII ($100M) — an example of Walmart’s desire to deliver a better life for its core customers.

Walmart’s acquisition streak has since slowed. It also sold off Modcloth just two years after buying it, to stem the losses from its e-commerce business. Bonobos saw layoffs in 2019 and Walmart’s biggest acquisition, Jet.com, has been folded into the rest of Walmart’s e-commerce operations.

Dunn’s letter also spoke to Walmart’s more controversial decision to fully exit the handgun and handgun ammunition businesses, and ban open carry in its stores, following the mass shooting in its El Paso store.

“It’s a testament to what kind of company Walmart is that I entered thinking mostly about what I could offer, and ended up being the one who received so much,” said Dunn. “When it comes to making the world a better place, the world’s largest company is, 57 years later, just getting started. It’s a credit to the remarkable teamwork of 2.4 million of the hardest working people on planet Earth, all working together. As Sam said, the fact that we’re all in this together is the secret. At Walmart, it’s hidden in plain sight,” he concluded.

Vox previously reported on Dunn’s departure, citing a source, ahead of the official announcement.

Dunn’s departure will take place in 2020.

 


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Klarna CEO says “maybe” of taking public Europe’s most valuable fintech next year (but he’s not ruling out another round, either)

17:25 | 12 December

Yesterday, at TechCrunch Berlin, we sat down with Sebastian Siemiatkowski, the cofounder and CEO of Klarna, a 15-year-old company that’s currently the most highly valued privately held fintech in Europe, following a $460 million investment that pegged the company’s worth at $5.5 billion back in August. (Asked yesterday to confirm that the company has raised $1.2 billion altogether from investors, Siemiatkowski joked — without confirming the amount — “It sounds like you know better than I do.”)

Siemiatkowski had come to the event largely to take the wraps off a new tech hub in Berlin that will house 500 employees in product and engineering. But we were far more interested in discussing the future of the company, which is best known for providing instant credit to online shoppers at the point of checkout and is growing fast, with nearly 3,000 employees across 17 countries. Klarna has also begun competing more aggressively in the U.S.  —  as well as fending off a against a growing spate of competitors, from publicly traded AfterPay to Max Levchin’s Affirm to Sezzle. a company in Minneapolis that seemingly appeared from the blue a few years ago. 

Of course, the toughest competition of all may come from Amazon and Google, which are increasingly embedding their payment systems — Amazon Pay and and Google Pay — into their own massive platforms. We talked with Siemiatkowski about how Klarna survives as they gobble up more of the retail industry. We also asked about whether Amazon might be an acquirer, or whether Klarna might be eyeing an IPO in 2020 instead. You can check out excerpts from our conversation below. They’ve been lightly edited for length and clarity.

TC: The last time we sat down together was four years or so ago, when Klarna was best known for its checkout product. What are some of the ways in which the company has evolved since then?

SS: There’s a massive opportunity. For consumers, when they shop online today, they have so many friction points. One of them might be the ability to get free credit without all the fees and things that people associate with credit cards. But there’s also other things like, where’s my package? When will it arrive? How do I do returns? Where are the best offers? Where are the best discounts? There’s a lot of things that people still struggle with. And so what we’re trying to do is create that super-smooth shopping experience, and the more problems we solve for these customers, the better, and the happier they are, and the more they’re going to use it.

TC: Do you have any other financial products, like [longer-term] loans?

SS: We do direct type of payments like that. And then, in some countries here in Europe, we’ve already launched a plastic card, as well. So you can use this like that. And then we also do this kind of Mint.com-like financial dashboard that shows you your spending habits, and all that kind of stuff.

TC: You’re adding this hub in Berlin, but you’re already in Germany–

SS: Yes, Germany is actually our largest market. In Germany, we have about 30 million users, which, you know, takes us about 10 million ahead of that American wallet thing [PayPal], which is quite cool. So Germany is a super important for us, but right now what’s exciting is the U.S., so right now we’re adding customers at a pace that will be about six million customers on an annual basis right now. So the U.S. is really taking off.


TC: This instant credit product is still the biggest producer of revenue?

SS: Yes. If you look at those two things going on here, first is that millennials, in the U.S. and U.K.,  they don’t have credit cards they have debit cards — 70% of millennials in the U.S. only have debit cards. But they’re still looking sometimes to get a cash flow ease. What’s good about our services is doesn’t cost a consumer anything, so it’s not like the old credit cards which were really expensive for users.

It’s merchant-funded, so that allows the consumers to then sometimes be able to either ease their cash flow by paying in four installments, or try before they buy [meaning they can defer the payment for some period] and stuff like. People forget that people who have debit cards have much harder issues shopping online than people with credit cards, and that’s a big piece of what we’re solving for.

TC: Do you always break the payments into four installments? Do you customize these plans?

SS: Breaking [into] four [payments] is great and that’s one option. What we’ve seen is that consumers have different needs, so some people really like our try-before-you-buy product [where] you pay nothing at the time but then [pay] everything 30 days later when you receive the products. Sometimes, if it’s a bigger purchase, like you’re buying a sofa or something, you split it over 24 months of financing or something like that, which is kind of different. And sometimes people just want to pay for everything instantly. So we just want to make sure that people have all the options that they want.

TC: How much can users spend? What’s the upper boundary?

SS: I’m sure there is one but it’s really hard to answer because it’s very individual, on an individual basis.

TC: And to be clear, you’re buying these from merchants at a discount? Is that how it works?

SS: Basically, the merchant sets up with us, they pay us a merchant fee just like they do with PayPal or somebody else. Then we process the payments for them, and we take the full risk, and all the customer care and everything related to the transaction.

TC: I’m assuming you’re not using your [venture funding] to do this. You have a bank charter in Sweden . . .

SS: Yes, we’re a fully licensed bank and we have deposits to fund the balance sheet. So people in Germany can actually save with Klarna and get 1%, which doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s massively more than they get with any of the traditional banks in Germany.

TC: What about interest fees and late fees? How do those work?

SS: Basically, we keep them extremely low. There are sometimes if you’re late, there might be a late fee but but the whole purpose here is that it’s merchant-funded. So merchants pay for this, and the consumers get a much better product than the traditional credit card or other options.

TC: What’s the default rate?

SS: Super low. If look at overall Klarna, for all markets, it’s is less than 1%.

TC: There is a competitor of yours, AfterPay, that was criticized last year because something like a quarter of its revenue was coming from late payments. What [is your revenue coming from]?

SS: Most of it is coming from merchant fees, and late fees in general are never bigger than the losses that you’re making. But I think it’s definitely an important topic, where all the companies in this industry need to be very careful about how you set up your products.

I think Klarna — maybe because we’ve been around longer than the competitor you’re referring to and because we’re five times their size in totality — maybe we have just come a little bit further in how we think about consumer value and making sure that fees are right and so forth. So those are important topics to keep an eye on. But I also think that what’s even more important is that you have this credit card industry, which in general has charged massive interest rates, a lot of late fees, and been not a very transparent and great industry. And I think, actually, the big opportunity is for people like us, and the one you refer to and others, to disrupt that industry. It’s the credit card industry that we’re going after.

TC: Sure, and I’m not going to defend the credit card industry, but did you say what your interest fees are?

SS: It depends on an individual basis, but it’s definitely lower than the average credit card fee.

TC: Meanwhile, you’re charging merchants more than credit card companies, which you can do because you’re basically increasing their customers’ purchasing power.

SS: Yes. If you look to some markets like Brazil and Turkey that’s kind of how the whole world work. So in a way,  that’s kind of the direction we’re heading in, because as a merchant, you’ll have more buying power than as a single individual consumer, so you’ll be able to negotiate better rates, and be able to offer these products at a better rate than this as a single individual [receives].

TC: Obviously you’ve heard concerns that, especially as we’re maybe heading into a recession, easy credit may be dangerous for consumers. Your technology can assess whether or not someone is a good credit risk and whether or not an attempted transaction is fraudulent, but you’re not really getting a picture of a customer’s other financial obligations or burdens. 

SS: We do thorough credit checks. It depends because it’s hard to answer these questions when you’re active in 17 markets, because they’re all different. But it’s a definite obvious for us that we need to be able to assess people’s ability to pay, as well as their intent to pay . . . We’ve been doing this for 15 years, so we really learned how to identify that and do it in a, in a thoughtful and in a good way for the consumer.

TC: A lot of competitors have sprung up in recent years. Why hasn’t there been more consolidation in the space? Is it too soon?

SS: I think it might come eventually, but I do think again that there’s a lot of focus on these companies right now . . . and the point is that like, what we’re trying to do all of us, all these companies together, is really going after the trillion-dollar credit card industry  that hasn’t served customers well, that hasn’t, you know, and has been all about hiding fees and hasn’t been transparent and whose products and services are fairly poor quality.

There’s a big opportunity to change how this whole [industry works] and that’s true for us and to some degree also true for [mobile-only banks] N26 and Monzo and all the banking disruptors. We’re all going after these big banks that haven’t really served their customers well.

TC: It’s interesting that a lot of them are taking stakes in companies like yours. Visa made a strategic investment in Klarna in 2017. Why aren’t they pulling the trigger on more acquisitions? Is it a matter of them not knowing how to integrate these new technologies into their legacy systems but wanting at the same time to keep tabs on things?

SS:  I genuinely think —  I’ve been doing this now for 15 years, which is kind of crazy; I was 23 when we started —  that the bank disruption is actually happening now and I’m one of the people who would never say that. I’m always like, ‘Oh, [something] is just a trend, it’s hype, it’s going to pass, it’s going to take longer than people expect.’ But I see it happening. Consumers are switching en masse to these new services.

So what the legacy incumbents can do is [choose] from three options: transform themselves, which demands a very courageous CEO to really change a business like that; secondly, M&A; and third, go away and die as a company. So I do think that’s what you’re going to see in the market.  In general, if you look at the whole industry, you’re going to see a lot of investments in M&A activity going on, because that’s just how you defend yourself as as an incumbent versus disruption.

TC: Have you been approached?

SS: We get approached all the time, yeah.

TC: I thought it was interesting that you announced in October that AWS is now your preferred cloud provider. I imagine that Amazon is an important partner for you.

SS: Yes.

TC: I’m wondering especially about Amazon given that Amazon and Google are now embedding payment systems into their platforms. How do and your rivals [compete against them]?

SS:  I’m [someone who] believes that sticking to core is so important and so, like, what’s happening is we’ve seen a lot of like the big tech giants trying to kind of do more and more and more and more things. And I just think that’s very hard to do over time.

The other thing we do at Klarna is try to consistently stay ahead. When we started 15 years ago, payments online was all about safety; that was the only thing people [cared about] because they felt unsafe shopping online. I think 2010 to 2020 has been about simplicity — one click. one click. one click, because Amazon really taught us that one click was important and everyone wants to do one click. The question is, what happens from 2020 to 2030? That’s what we’ve been thinking about. How do we stay ahead of the game? How do we innovate? How do we keep creating new services and improvements to consumers so that they feel that this is better than what’s out there right now.

In my opinion, that really demands you to be passionate and in love with your business. And I think it’s hard for tech giants to be that at that scale. It’s easy to recognize what’s going on right now; it’s much harder [for them] to guess what’s going to happen five years from now. That’s really demand that passion and closeness to what you’re doing.

TC: Talking about the future, I saw that you talk to the Financial Times this summer, and when they asked you about going public after all these years, you said that, “In many ways we have most of the things in place that we need. It’s more question of timing and focus.” So how is 2020 looking in terms of timing?

SS: Yeah, I don’t know, maybe it could happen. It was kind of funny, because I was reading an interview with Michael Moritz, who’s on our board, and he was saying that we were going to stay private forever. So, I don’t know, it’s hard for me to know that what’s true anymore. People are reporting different things about Klarna.

TC: You never do know what Michael Moritz is going to say. But if you were to go public, I assume it would be a U.S. listing.

SS: I would assume so, too.

TC: What do you make of this whole direct listing concept that your neighbor [in Stockholm, Spotify, pioneered]?

SS: I think it’s wise. I mean Michael [Moritz] is a big proponent of it. I think it makes sense. I read all the arguments, and it looks interesting.

TC: But you’re not raising money with direct listings — your existing shareholders are instead selling their shares on the open market — which sort of begs the question: will you be raising [another private round] of funding again? You raised a big round in summer.

SS: We are in a very exciting phase right now, where the U.S. and U.K. is growing so fast for us. . . And we want to continue investing. We think the potential market in in the US is just massive . . .So we’ll we’ll see what happens, but I wouldn’t rule it out, that one thing that could happen is raise even more money to be investing even more in growth and product delivery, and new products and services, as well as sales and marketing in the US,

TC: Of course, every time you raise money it impacts whether or not you’re profitable. Are you profitable now? Have you been?

SS: Klarna has been profitable every year up until this year.

TC: That giant fundraise [in summer] kind of threw you off.

SS: Yeah, exactly.

 


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Glovo’s Sacha Michaud: “I think there will be consolidation”

12:36 | 12 December

Many companies realized that there was a huge opportunity when it comes to on-demand delivery of food and groceries. And apparently, too many companies as Glovo co-founder Sacha Michaud expects some consolidation in the space in the near future.

At TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, the General Manager of Northern, Central and Eastern Europe for Uber Eats Charity Safford and Glovo’s co-founder Sacha Michaud sat down with TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas to discuss all of the ups and downs that come with running a delivery service.

And it’s clear that the conversation has shifted over the years from ‘look what you can order from your phone’ to ‘is it possible to turn a profit’. When asked directly about profitability, both companies said that it depends on the market.

“It varies a lot country by country. We're profitable on a unit economics basis in some countries,” Safford said.

“From an investor’s perspective — and I don't think it's just related to the gig economy or delivery — I think there's more scrutiny on tech companies full stop. It’s not just about growing, but they say ‘show me the route to profitability and tell me when you're going to be profitable,’” Michaud said.

Michaud then said that Spain and Southern Europe are the best markets for Glovo. The company generates an operating profit in those markets. “Latin America will become operation profitable next year,” he added. Glovo wants to focus on markets where the company can be the leader or at least the second player.

Recently, Just Eat and Takeaway.com have announced plans to merge and form a food delivery giant. But that could be just the first step.

“I think there will be consolidation. Our vision is that we’re aiming for profitability. We want to be profitable and depend on ourselves, which would put us in a really nice position to be. We'd not depend on acquisitions or investments. And that's our focus over the next 12 to 18 months,” Michaud said. Glovo has had “conversations not about investments or acquisitions.” with Uber Eats .

But the most pressing concern right now for food delivery companies right now is that delivery partners could be reclassified as employees in some markets. Both companies insist that couriers actually like flexibility.

“It would be a big change for sure and that would be something that we would do, only if it was deemed necessary, because again we're hearing right now that that's not the way that the couriers would like to be classified,” Safford said.

 


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Clideo promises an easy way to make shoppable videos

15:38 | 11 December

Clideo says it can help marketers reach consumers in a smarter way, by making videos shoppable via an “interactive overlay.”

CEO Michele Mazzaro (who previously worked as an executive at Ki Group and in mergers and acquisitions at KPMG Italy) said these videos are meant to address a larger issue: “Businesses are failing in communicating on digital media. I don’t remember the last time I clicked on a banner, pre-roll or mid-roll ad. I hate it as a consumer.”

To address this, Mazzaro and his co-founders Nitzan Mayer-Wolf and Andrea Iriondo have created what Mazzaro described as a way to “turn any video into a discovery experience.” They’re presenting the product today at Disrupt Berlin as part of our Startup Battlefield.

Although the videos are described as interactive, the Clideo team isn’t trying to power the kind of branching narratives popularized by startups like Eko (not to mention Netflix’s “Black Mirror” special “Bandersnatch”), but rather taking a standard video and adding new capabilities around the products featured — the ability to buy something, save it to a wishlist or share it on social media.

Mazzaro argued that these features give marketers crucial data about which audiences are engaging with which products.

“Stop throwing your video budgets into the garbage and undersatnad why your consumers are engaging with you,” he said.

Clideo videos require their own video player, so they can’t be played directly on YouTube or social media. However, Mazzaro noted that they can be promoted on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere via links.

And despite this limitation, Madrid-based Clideo has already been tested by e-commerce websites, including Spain’s Modalia.com, with conversion rates as high as 33%.

Interactive and/or shoppable video isn’t a new idea, but Mazzaro said most existing solutions either come from creative agencies working with a limited number of luxury brands, or video marketing platforms that include very limited interactive capabilities.

Mazzaro contrasted this with Clideo, which he said is creating “the do-it-yourself solution without compromising creativity.” In fact, he said an interactive video can be created in as little as five minutes.

He also argued that Clideo is differentiated by its business model — where, in addition to a monthly subscription, customers pay an additional fee tied directly to Clideo’s results driving viewers to checkout pages.

“We’re the only ones to align our goals to our customers,” Mazzaro said.

Clideo has been bootstrapped thus far. Mazzaro said that the product is available globally, though early customers are likely to be based in Spain, Italy and Israel.

 


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Zetwerk, an 18-month-old Indian B2B marketplace for manufacturing items, raises $32M

22:09 | 10 December

Zetwerk, an Indian business-to-business marketplace for manufacturing items, has closed a significantly large financing round as it scales its operations in the nation and also helps local businesses find customers overseas.

The 18-month-old startup said on Wednesday it has raised $32 million in a Series B financing round led by Lightspeed and Greenoaks Capital. Zetwerk co-founder and chief executive Amrit Acharya told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup has also raised about $14.2 million in debt from a consortium of banks, and others.

Existing investors Accel, Sequoia India and Kae Capital also participated in the round, which pushes the Bangalore-based startup’s total raise to date to about $41 million. Vaibhav Gupta, co-founder of business-to-business marketplace Udaan, and Maninder Gulati, one of the top executives at budget lodging startup Oyo also participated.

Zetwerk was founded by Acharya, Srinath Ramakkrushnan, Rahul Sharma and Vishal Chaudhary last year. The startup connects OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and EPC (engineering procurement construction) customers with manufacturing small-businesses and enterprises.

Unlike the more common e-commerce firms we come across every day, Zetwerk sells goods such as parts of a crane, doors, chassis of different machines and ladders. The startup operates to serve customers in fabrication, machining, casting and forging businesses. Currently, Zetwerk works with more than 100 enterprises and 1,500 small and medium-sized businesses. It delivers more than 15,000 parts each month.

“These are all custom-made products,” explained Acharya. “Nobody has a stock of such inventories. You get the order, you find manufacturers and workshops that make them. Our customers are companies that are in the business of building infrastructure.”

“We index these small workshops and understand the kinds of products they have built before. These indexes help bigger companies discover and work with them,” he added.

Once a firm has placed an order, Zetwerk allows them to keep a tab on the progress of manufacturing and then the shipping. This “hand-holding” is crucial, as in this line of business, manufacturing and shipping typically take more than two to three months.

Zetwerk has also enabled manufacturers in India to discover and find clients overseas. Today, manufacturers on the platform export their goods to North America and Southeast Asia, Acharya said. “India has a lot of depth in manufacturing, but much of it has not been tapped well,” he said.

Helping these manufacturing workshops find clients online is still a new phenomenon in the nation. Acharya said Zetwerk largely competes with domain project consultants in the offline work. “They specialize in certain products and geographies. So let’s say someone wanted to buy a machine XYZ in Orissa, they reach out to consultants who help them find workshops and estimate how much time it would take to get the project done.”

According to industry reports, manufacturing today accounts for 14% of India’s GDP. But the nation lacks a supporting ecosystem to execute projects in an efficient manner.

Vaibhav Agarwal, a partner at Lightspeed, said it was unusual to come across a market that is as large as $40 billion to $60 billion in India and global trade-tailwinds that creates opportunity to serve international demand.

The startup plans to infuse portions of the fresh capital into expanding its international operations. Acharya did not share exactly how many clients it has outside of India but said exports currently account for less than 5% of the startup’s GMV, or gross merchandize value.

He said the startup will continue to focus on helping Indian manufacturers find clients outside, as it is better suited to address this, as opposed to helping Indian companies find manufacturers overseas.

The startup will also explore helping its manufacturing workshops access working capital, though Acharya cautioned that it is not something that would happen anytime soon.

In a statement, Prayank Swaroop, a partner at Accel, said, “the use of technology in project planning, procurement, audits, and supply chain transparency is the core offering of Zetwerk which is completely original. Accel is very fortunate to be part of Zetwerk journey since the startup’s inception.”

 


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Daily Crunch: Away’s CEO is stepping down

21:33 | 10 December

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Away CEO is stepping down in light of reports of toxic culture

Steph Korey is stepping down from her role as CEO, although she will remain on-board as executive chairman. She’ll be replaced by Lululemon COO Stuart Haselden.

The timing of the announcement comes just a few days after The Verge published an in-depth story about management practices at the luggage startup, which included extensive quotes from Korey’s Slack messages. However, the company says that the executive search has been underway for months.

2. VSCO acquires video editing startup Rylo

The photo-sharing app behind the 2019 meme craze “VSCO girls” has acquired Rylo, a video editing startup founded by the original developer of Instagram’s Hyperlapse. Founded in 2015, Rylo is best known for its 360° camera capable of creating cinematic video in 5.8K resolution.

3. Apple Card’s interest-free iPhone installment plan goes live, now with 6% back on Apple holiday purchases

The company already announced its plans for the program — allowing cardholders to purchase a new iPhone, then pay it back over 24 months with no interest — but now it’s actually opening up to all Apple Card customers. In addition, Apple is sweetening the deal with 6% back on all Apple purchases made from December 10 through December 31.

4. India proposes new rules to access its citizens’ data

India has proposed new rules that would require companies to obtain consent from Indian citizens before collecting and processing their personal data. At the same time, the new rules also state that companies would have to hand over “non-personal” user data to the government, which would also hold the power to collect any data about its citizens without consent.

5. Waze adds unplowed road reporting feature for better awareness of winter driving hazards

Waze says it developed this update after it received a recommendation from the Virginia Department of Transportation, working with the municipal agency through its “Waze for Cities Data” partnership and data-sharing program.

6. Jiji raises $21M for its Africa online classifieds business

Buyers and sellers use Jiji to make purchases ranging from real estate to car sales. The classifieds site says it has 2 million listings on its Africa platforms and hit 8 million unique monthly users in 2018.

7. AWS is sick of waiting for your company to move to the cloud

AWS held its annual re:Invent customer conference last week in Las Vegas, where CEO Andy Jassy made it clear he’s tired of the slow pace of change inside the enterprise. The company also announced some big bets designed to accelerate cloud adoption. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

 


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Why D2C holding companies are here to stay

18:51 | 10 December

Alex Song Contributor
Alex is CEO and co-Founder of Innovation Department, a tech-empowered platform building the next generation of consumer brands. Previously, he worked at Goldman Sachs and Pershing Square Capital Management.

It wasn’t that long ago that digitally-native, vertically-integrated brands (DNVBs) were the talk of the startup world.

Venture capitalists and founders watched as Warby Parker, Casper, Glossier, Harry’s and Honest Company became the belles of the D2C ball, trotting their way towards unicorn valuations. Not long after, the “startup studio” was unmasked as the elusive unicorn breeding grounds (think Hims). Today, there’s yet another buzzword that’s all the rage and it goes by the name “D2C Holding Company.” And it’s not going away anytime soon.

What are DNVBs?

In 2017, DNVBs were a game-changer. Different than e-commerce, DNVBs sell products online directly to consumers and maintain control and transparency through each stage of the production and distribution process, all without the involvement of middlemen. This allows DNVBs to determine where and how their products are sold and to collect customer data that helps optimize their marketing strategies. 

DNVBs have exploded over the last decade, growing sales and venture capital funding at a rapid pace. These brands use digital engagement strategies to create stronger relationships with consumers, which — when implemented alongside captivating content — contribute heavily to brand success by increasing customer LTV and creating compounding unit economics.

The problem with DNVBs

In the last three years alone, more DNVBs have launched than in the entirety of the previous decade.

While this growth is encouraging, the problem is that these DNVBs are raising so much venture capital that in order to meet the return requirements of their investors, they need a significant purchase offer or IPO valuation. With more than 85 percent of acquisitions happening below $250 million in purchase price, strategic acquisitions offers that meet investor expectations are few and far between.

This ultimately creates a state of startup purgatory where DNVBs have no choice but to take a downround to find a lifeline — sorry, Honest Company — making it difficult to develop disciplined operational habits and achieve sustainable growth. With these challenges becoming more glaringly apparent in recent years, there came a need for a new approach to D2C at large. Enter the modern D2C holding company.

Make way for the D2C holding company model

Today’s version of the holding company model takes what companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever did in the 1950s and modernizes it for the existing D2C market. Instead of taking a siloed approach, brands pool resources, operational costs and institutional knowledge to accelerate growth and achieve profitability at a faster rate. 

DNVB darlings Harry’s and Glossier are great examples of this. Harry’s diversification efforts have been centerstage as the company works to grow beyond men’s grooming to include personal care for men and women, household items and baby products. In May, Edgewell Personal Care, which owns brands like Schick, Banana Boat, and Wet Ones, acquired Harry’s for $1.37 billion. Glossier is also working to diversify its portfolio, with the launch of Glossier Play, a younger, more colorful sister brand to its original.

For DNVBs to successfully pivot to a holding company model, they will need to prioritize 1) diversification to satisfy customers’ short attention spans, 2) a data-first mindset to deliver the best possible customer experience, and 3) operational and capital efficiency to not only stay afloat, but thrive. 

An evolving landscape

The landscape for D2C holding companies is just starting to take shape, but here are some of the key players who have adopted this approach and are finding early success:

 


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Walmart partners with self-driving startup Nuro to test autonomous grocery delivery in Houston

18:12 | 10 December

Walmart this morning announced a new pilot program that will test autonomous grocery delivery in the Houston market starting next year. The retailer is partnering with autonomous vehicle company Nuro, a robotics company that uses driverless technology to deliver goods to customers. Nuro’s vehicles in this case will delivery Walmart online grocery orders to a select group of customers who opt into the service in Houston.

The autonomous delivery service will involve R2, Nuro’s custom-built delivery vehicle that carries products only with no onboard drivers or passengers, as well as autonomous Toyota Priuses that deliver groceries.

The program’s goal is to learn more about how autonomous grocery delivery could work and how such a service can be improved to better serve Walmart’s shoppers.

Nuro’s focus to date has been developing a self-driving stack and combining it with a custom unmanned vehicle designed for last-mile delivery of local goods and services. The vehicle has two compartments that can fit up to six grocery bags each.

The company has raised more than $1 billion from partners, including SoftBank, Greylock Partners and Gaorong Capital. In March, the company announced it had raised $940 million in financing from Softbank Vision Fund.

Nuro is known for its pursuit of autonomous delivery. But it also licensed its self-driving vehicle technology to Ike, the autonomous trucking startup. Ike now has a copy of Nuro’s stack, which is worth billions, based on this latest round. Nuro also has a minority stake in Ike.

Nuro’s partnership with Walmart is hardly its first. The company partnered in 2018 with Kroger to pilot a delivery service in Arizona. The pilot, which initially used Toyota Prius vehicles, transitioned in December to the delivery bot. The autonomous vehicle called R1 is operating as a driverless service without a safety driver on board in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale.

The Nuro partnership isn’t Walmart’s first autonomous delivery pilot, either. The retailer earlier this year tapped the startup Udelv to test autonomous grocery deliveries in Arizona. This summer, it kicked off a test with Gatik A.I., an autonomous vehicle startup to test grocery delivery from Walmart’s main warehouse in Bentonville, Arkansas. Walmart also launched a pilot with self-driving company Waymo in 2018 to test rides to Walmart for grocery pickup, as well as a test with Ford and Postmates for autonomous grocery delivery.

“Our unparalleled size and scale has allowed us to steer grocery delivery to the front doors of millions of families – and design a roadmap for the future of the industry,” said Tom Ward, Walmart’s SVP of digital operations, in a statement. “Along the way, we’ve been test driving a number of different options for getting groceries from our stores to our customers’ front doors through self-driving technology. We believe this technology is a natural extension of our Grocery Pickup and Delivery service, and our goal of making every day a little easier for customers,” he aded.

Walmart’s Online Grocery business is booming, but today still relies on partnerships with third-party delivery services. Currently, Walmart partners with delivery providers across the U.S. to facilitate deliveries, including Point Pickup, Skipcart, AxleHire, Roadie, Postmates, and DoorDash. It has also tried, then ended, relationships with DelivUber and Lyft in the past. By the end of 2019, Walmart Grocery will offer nearly 3,100 pickup locations and 1,600 stores that support grocery delivery.

The retailer’s investments in its online grocery business helped boost sales and benefitted consumers by offering an affordable competitor to Amazon, Target’s Shipt, Instacart, and others. In Q3, Walmart’s grocery business helped online sales grow 41%, ahead of the 35% gain expected, leading Walmart to another earnings beat and 21 quarters of growth in the U.S.

In the quarter, Walmart earnings rose to $1.16 a share on revenue of $127.99 billion. However, Walmart’s e-commerce business is losing money as it continues to invest in new technologies and acquisitions, which has led to internal tensions.

Walmart says its pilot program will Nuro will kick off in 2020.

 


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Will the 2020s be online advertising’s holistic decade?

00:04 | 7 December

Todd Dipaola Contributor
Todd Dipaola founded inMarket to bring the performance and accountability of digital advertising to offline brands.

With less than two months left in the decade, advertising is again entering a new phase of rapid expansion with customer experience front and center.

The explosion of data and identity management, combined with technical advancements in real-time signal detection and machine learning, present new opportunities to respond to consumers, but mastering this ability enables marketers to create “magic moments” — instances of hyper-relevant content, delivered at the perfect time and place. 

We’ll see evolutions on the back end in terms of delivery and measurement — as well as on the consumer-facing end — through new creative deployments that enhance the brick-and-mortar shopping trip. Marketers will be held to a higher standard, both by clients demanding world-class performance and proof, as well as consumers who want relevancy, helpfulness and privacy from their brand relationships. 

Achieving this balance won’t be an easy task, but the most progressive marketers will succeed in driving this industry toward a more customer-centric future because they took steps to evolve before it was too late. With that in mind, here are five ways we expect advertising to become more holistic in the 2020s: 

Smart data will take priority over big data

Most marketers have heard the adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” For too long, the industry relied on sheer quantity of data with no quality metrics for making key audience assumptions. This mentality has had a detrimental effect on our industry, creating an ecosystem where people simply hate ads and brands focus on viewability over ROI.

To truly understand our audiences, we must first turn data from multi-channel interactions into smart, actionable insights. This involves not only understanding who the customer is, but what motivates them. 

Progressive marketers will continue to invest heavily in identity graphs to tie critical data and behaviors to individual profiles across channels. Using data science and machine learning, marketers will then be able to advance their knowledge about consumers to new levels, employing new messaging tactics based not only on value, but also on what inspires action. Key nuances, like distinguishing a deal-seeker from a value-seeker, will lead to more engaging personalized experiences and ultimately better ROI for advertisers.

We’ll see a flurry of investment in real-time engagement

We live in a world where our technology predicts where we are going, what we are seeking and how long it will take to get there by recognizing our patterns and everyday behaviors. The benefits in terms of convenience and knowledge are addictive. Look no further than email, social and Alexa to see how real-time awareness and time savings from these interactions impact our everyday lives.  

For marketers, capturing this lightning in a bottle has always been elusive — until now. The rise of real-time advertising, customer data platforms (CDPs), data science and machine learning have created the ability to detect purchases as well as online and real world location signals in real-time. This enables marketers to not only predict the next shopping trip, but what a consumer is likely to buy, when it matters most.

These sense-and-respond capabilities will enable progressive marketers to create experiences of enormous value at the moments that matter, such as triggering an offer of relevance upon entering a store or delivering a tailored experience at a specific time and location. The new decade will bring about massive investments into these technologies given their immediate ability to influence consumers during the actual purchase process. We’ll see budgets being specifically carved out to support real-time advertising and technologies as marketers optimize and convert users with greater effectiveness.  

For consumers, it means that the in-store experience will continue to become more interactive, with mobile devices as the connecting point between e-commerce and brick and mortar. Brands that thrive in this environment will win by delivering meaningful creative that connects both online and offline worlds in a helpful and relevant way.

Cutting-edge tech will create new ad experiences

 


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Flipkart leads $60M investment in logistics startup Shadowfax

11:35 | 5 December

Walmart’s Flipkart has backed Shadowfax in a new $60 million financing round as the retail giant works to strengthen its logistics network in the nation.

Flipkart, which alone contributed $30 million, led the Series D financing round for the three-year-old Bangalore-based startup, Shadowfax co-founder and chief executive Abhishek Bansal told TechCrunch in an interview.

Existing investors NGP Capital, Qualcomm Ventures, Mirae Asset, and Eight Roads Ventures also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s total raise to date to $100 million. The new round valued Shadowfax at about $250 million, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The startup declined to comment on the valuation.

Shadowfax operates a business-to-business logistics network in over 300 cities in India. The startup works with neighbourhood stores to use their real estate to store inventory, and a large network of freelancers who do the delivery. “Anyone with a bicycle or a bike can join our platform and deliver items for us,” said Shadowfax’s Bansal.

This logistics network can handle goods in a range of categories including hot food, grocery and e-commerce. Flipkart and food delivery startup Swiggy are among its “hundreds” of clients, he said.

“It’s a very reliable logistics network. And each grocery store is only serving to users in a kilometre radius, so the delivery could be incredibly quick. These grocery stores, whose staff also often participate in delivery, only have to work with us for a few hours in a day, so it’s a quick way for them to make extra money,” he said.

More to follow…

 


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